Rebecca & I had slipped away to Rosarito Beach, Baja California, in Mexico. It was to be a romantic 4 day long weekend. Lobster, the Pacific Ocean, rest, relaxation, conversation. A chance to unwind.
Until we tried coming back across the Mexico-USA border at San Ysidro, California.
That’s where the troubles began.
It was 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning. We thought, “it’s early, no lines, we’ll be across in 30 minutes, maybe 1 hour.”
What we didn’t know as the sun rose that cool morning was that a lot of road construction was going on, so many of the long remembered pathways to the border we had used many times before were now blocked or closed. One road led into downtown Tijuana. That was a nightmare. Another path took us down a promising border lane, that dumped us into a side road that went nowhere.
Back around to the border we drove. Near an old square we found a side lane that said “San Diego.” We headed for it. It was the wrong lane. One meant for those pre-approved for the Sentry system. People with pre-approved, special clearance for regular border crossings.
Into this lane we accidentally drove – a lane barricaded on both sides by concrete. With no exits, and no way out.
Zip, we passed hundreds of cars in the regular lanes, all waiting to cross like us. As we slowed down for border inspection the car in front of us was trying to cross too. The wait took awhile as we watched the driver ahead furnish only birth certificates for his passengers. Not good. US passports for every American crossing are now required. We waited, and waited, while the car ahead was finally taken to a segregated waiting area for more questioning.
Our turn. We explained our crazy predicament to the border officer. Blocked roads, signs that said San Diego, a wrong, closed-off lane that funneled into the restricted Sentry lane. The officer was kind to us. Very understanding. Mentioned he had never even been to Mexico. But that a number of others trying to cross had voiced the very same predicament as ours.
Never been to Mexico? A US border officer? Not good.
To a special holding area we drove. Locked in. Sitting with dozens of other cars, also being held for questioning. Unknown to us, we had arrived during a shift change. There were virtually no officers to inspect cars. Just 2 for our whole area of, perhaps, 24 cars & trucks. We waited, waited. And waited. No one cared. No able bodied officers approached us as we sat in our car. The 2 working officers nearby just stood there, talking to their boss, waiting for the shift change.
Your tax dollars at work for you, folks. Officers on the clock, doing nothing. Thanks, Mr. President.
At 8 a.m. the shift change happened. But the just arriving officers were only concerned with their shift hours & time. We watched them from 15 feet away as they talked, joked, viewed the posted schedule and dawdled.
Finally, mercifully, someone came to inspect both our car and us – then okayed our leaving. With the stern warning that if we ended up in the Sentry lane again, it would be a $5000 fine. Ouch.
Then we waited some more. Why? Because the Ford F-150 truck in front of us (from Bakersfield) was being inspected heavily. The officers suspected it of drugs. (We heard them discussing the good cop, bad cop routine they were going to use with the truck’s driver.) They knocked on the truck’s panels, checked under the frame and hood. Then literally inspected every single item in the wife’s purse, dumping it’s contents onto a table, going through her receipts, pocketbook, the works.
We waited. Sat there. Cleared to go. But couldn’t because, again, the truck in front of us was still being shaken down.
Smart Rebecca. After about 30 minutes of waiting, she politely said to another officer nearby that we had been waiting for half an hour to leave. That the Ford truck in front was blocking us. Could he please move the van behind us instead so we could go?
Surprised, but polite, he swiftly asked the van to move, we backed up, then were quickly on our way to San Diego…relieved to be gone.
Our little 90 minute border crossing ordeal left us with some firm impressions on a few simple, but crucial, problems:
First, the US border control officers seemed to truly care less about people. Maybe they thought we were idiots. Or that leaving us there was a cruel, little device of punishment. Yes, a couple agents were nice. But the majority were mostly interested in themselves, their shift, their time. Welcome to government employees.
Second, for all the money tossed into securing the USA border, the whole process still seemed pretty disorganized. The right hand often didn’t know what the left hand was doing. Maybe it was our timing, arriving during a shift change. Okay.
Third, never, ever, ever drive down the Sentry lane. Did I mention “never”?